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SINCE AFRO (now represented by OBU) presented its demands to the University on November 18, the University has responded with a number of statements, both written and verbal. Far from dealing substantively with OBU's demands, these statements have exhibited a pattern of distortion and inconsistency, and possibly of deliberate deception. Against the background of Harvard's apparent unwillingness to deal seriously with OBU's legitimate demands. Friday's occupation of University Hall must be seen as a legitimate tactic for demonstrating OBU's seriousness and for pressuring the University to deal responsibly with the standing issues.
More than a month ago various groups on Harvard's campus, notably SDS and the Undergraduate Afro, began raising questions about the University's employment practices relating to black workers. At that time the issue centered around the job category of "painter's helper" in which the University has for some time employed black workers doing painters' work for substantially less than painters' wages. Since that time the Organization for Black Unity a group representing Afro groups at all of the University's schools, has expanded the controversy to include another major issue, the hiring of more black workers on all present and future Harvard construction sites.
Although there are in all fifteen OBU demands, they all center around three focal issues-the issues that the University has been least willing to deal with:
1.The raising of the wages of present "painters' helpers" to those of painters.
2.The assurance that 20 per cent of the workers on all present and future sites of construction work undertaken by the University be composed of black and Third World workers.
3.The establishment of a mechanism to provide for a compliance officer to supervise these sites and confirm continued compliance with this policy.
All of these demands are clearly justified and should be met by the University without further delay.
Fifteen years ago Harvard hired one man under the category of "painter's helper." In this case, the title fit the man's job. He collected materials, drove a truck, and burned out used paint pots-functions he continues to perform today. About three years ago, however, Harvard, like many other institutions, came under pressure to correct obvious discrimination in its hiring practices. As a result, the University hired more black workers in certain fields. Several workers were made "painter's helpers." receiving pay lower than that of painters. as dictated by union contract. The fact of the matter is, however, that these mer do exactly the same work as painters, but continue to be paid less money, essentially because they are black. Some of these "helpers" have been here as long as sixteen months, and only one has been promoted to painter status.
The struggle against discrimination in the construction industry has been nationwide for some time now. Construction is a multi-billion dollar industry which is pivotal in the American economy, for as the country continues to grow, it must continue to build. Construction workers, accordingly, bring home one of the highest wages in the labor market, a wage that has been consistently denied to black people through discriminatory collaboration between racist unions, racist contractors, and racist owners. At this time there are large numbers of black veterans returning to this country whose qualifications as construction workers are unimpeachable. since they have been trained by the United States Army. Thus the fight to enter this employment market is an important one for black people all over this country.
THE FIGURE of 20 per cent is an arbitrary one, based on a rough percentage of black and other minority people in the nation's population. It had become clear in the course of the struggle against the construction industry that blacks must demand that a specific minimum number of workers be hired. Phrases such as "increased participation," "substantially larger numbers," "renewed efforts," and "good faith" (reminiscent of those Harvard has used) have too often proved empty rhetoric in the past.
The University's response to Obi's demands gives little indication that it would vigorously enforce an agreement on the hiring of black workers.
The administration has repeatedly failed to deal seriously with the issues OBU has raised. There are some outstanding examples: One of the University's arguments in saying it could not agree to a 20 per cent figure on construction sites was that the United Community Construction Workers (an organization of black workers whom OBU had said would supply the black work force) could not come up with enough men. The UCCW has never failed to supply the men it promised (at Tufts or elsewhere) and there was no reason to assume it would fail this time. This was a feeble excuse, indeed.
In handling the painter's helpers issue, the University has gone through a baffling series of twists and turns. We have heard at various times that L.Gard Wiggins, administrative vice president of the University, could promote the helpers with one phone call; then that he could not without the consent of the Union; then that Harvard was willing to let a three-man panel from the black Contractors Association of Boston decide the helpers' case, apparently without the union; and now the administration has agreed to add three OBU representatives to that panel. The University seems to have been dodging the issue.
Friday's occupation was a restrained and disciplined step in a larger plan aimed at achieving a set of legitimate demands. It was both justified and successful. Now that the University has finally started negotiating in earnest, it should stop making excuses and correct the injustices that exist.
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